Tottenham Hotpsur host Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday evening is arguably the most important London derby of the season. All the talk is of a two way title challenge between Liverpool and Manchester City, but should either Mauricio Pochettino or Maurizio Sarri emerge with three points this weekend their team will have to be taken seriously.
It might not be a classic. Both managers are capable of slowing down the top-six matches by compressing the pitch, and so Spurs' and Chelsea's respective high lines could mean they cancel each other out.
However, two relatively similar tactical approaches does mean that the game will be decided by individual battles. Here are the three most important:
1) Jorginho v Dele
Everton successfully nullifed Chelsea a fortnight ago by shutting down the passing line from Jorginho to Matteo Kovacic to Eden Hazard – the pattern Sarri's team can be guilty of relying on too heavily. Gylfi Sigurdsson sat on top of Jorginho, which meant the Chelsea centre-backs (afforded plenty of possession by Everton) were forced to pass around their midfield metronome.
This limited their ability to break through the Everton lines. Clearly the Chelsea centre-backs don't have the technical precision to feed the forwards directly, while N'Golo Kante also falls short in this department. The Frenchman struggles to turn in possession and play vertically, and so Sigurdsson's defensive role essentially cut off Chelsea at source. Dele Alli will be tasked with a similar role this weekend, and the young England midfielder certainly has the intelligence to perform his job to a high standard.
Jorginho versus Dele will also be crucial from a Spurs' perspective. Dele's movement – alternately drifting off the front line to occupy the number ten space and making runs ahead of Harry Kane – is very difficult for even the meanest defences to cope with. Chelsea don't play with an anchor man, which makes them potentially vulnerable to incisive attacking movement in the defensive midfeld zone where Jorginho operates.
Dele needs to sit on top of Jorginho when Chelsea have the ball, but the reverse is also true. Their tussle should prove decisive.
2) Trippier v Alonso
The high defensive lines of both teams, coupled with their mutual interest in funneling attacks through the centre of the pitch, threatens to make this a suffocating, claustrophobic affair. Certainly the technical quality floating around in the middle – from Hazard and Kovacic to Alli and Kane – means the two formations will be narrow. And that means the most important space will be on the flanks, where two pairs of attacking full-backs will wrestle for control.
The most intriguing battle is between Marcus Alonso and Kieran Trippier. Alonso is tasked with overlapping Hazard whenever he can (in order to drag defenders away from the Belgian as he cuts inside), with Cesar Azpilicueta more hesitant on the other side (so that Chelsea have near enough a back three to defend counters). Trippier, then, is the man to break quickly ahead of Chelsea's high line.
Spurs' ability to fly down the wings is particularly important because of their excellent set-piece record this year. Trippier's deliveries have led to eight set-piece goals, more than any other Premier League club. Tottenham win lots of corners by frequently attempting crosses from out wide; their subsequent success explains how they've won so many points despite average performances.
3) Hazard v Dier
Should Jorginho successfully outmaneouvre Dele and control the game for the visitors, then Hazard will undoubtedly play a big role; it is extremely difficult to keep the Belgian quite this season, freed as he has been by Sarri's expansive football. Hazard already seven goals and four assists in eight starts.
Given that he predominantly cuts infield from the left, the most important Spurs blocker is whoever Pochettino picks to play on the right side of his midfield three. Ordinarily in big games, such as the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in October, Eric Dier is deployed here. That could spell trouble for the home side.
Dier isn't a particularly mobile player. Defending Hazard requires the agility to track his dips and faints, to spot the moves before they happen and block the running lane in time (Idrissa Gueye performed this job very well in the stalemate against Everton).
Spurs are generally leggy in the middle, meaning Pochettino doesn't have any dependable options to stop Hazard, although Moussa Sissoko would probably do a better job than Dier. Should the game become stretched, it seems unlikely Spurs will be light-footed enough in the middle to keep Hazard quiet.